20 December 2019: A Mess

Automata don’t build themselves.  The creation process is not always neat and tidy.

Here you see me in the final stages of completing the pulleys for Electric Chair #1.  These large pulley assemblies will be dropping the 60 rpm speed of the first shaft to 1 rpm, which is the speed required by the campak.

It seems to me that if you look at how things are arranged that you can (correctly) deduce that I am left handed. Near the top at the center is a Google Nest Mini…a speaker that I use to read audio books with while I work. 

To the left of that speaker is a stack of cocktail napkins.  I used to use paper towels but I find it much easier to use these small cocktail napkins…they help keep my creations, my workbench, and my clothes, clean.

To the left of the cocktail napkins are my sanding sticks.  I purchased these from the beauty shop that my wife uses.  The sticks that I like the most have 100 grit on one side and 180 on the other.  They cost about $.75 each and last me 3-5 weeks.  I love these little sanding sticks.

The big pulleys have taken me two days to create.  Part of that time was spent building a sanding tool…one that helps me sand the disks perfectly round on my disc sander.

Making a mess is part of the process.


11 December 2019: Random

I came across a scientific article the other day…a portion of which has stuck with me.  In essence the article said that scientists say that “all is random”.  ALL IS RANDOM.  I get it.  I don’t have a problem with the statement.  It makes good sense to me.

And then I step back and realize that naturally ‘all is random’ and yet humans are trying to organize it.  It seems such a futile task to me.  For example…what is ‘sanity’?  If everything is random you would expect the definition of ‘sanity’ to change over time.   What is a desired government?  Again, you would expect the definition to change over time.  Is there a God?  Perhaps at times.  And then not.

I worry about this because I am constantly wondering if I am living my life the way I should be.  Am I doing it right?  And when the concept of “all is random” is thrown in…it causes a bit of a dust up.

So I am walking around these days looking at things that don’t make sense to me and I repeat the phrase “all is random”.  It makes me feel better.

To be honest though, thinking that all is random is not making life any better.  Life is not richer.  But perhaps it is just a tiny bit more understandable.


2 December 2019: Progress continues, Styles

I had to slack off my automata creation efforts for just a bit last week…had a project for a customer that I needed to get done.

Automata Styles:  I’ve been giving this topic thought recently.  It’s hard to not compare yourself to others.  Here are some of my thoughts:

  • François Junod I am not.  This guy creates amazing automata.  I envy his abilities.  My understanding is that he has training as a watchmaker.  I am very impressed with his ideas and craftsmanship. But I’m not him
  • Paul Spooner I am not.  I admire the way that Paul can let his imagination loose…at the frivolity that he is able to build into his automata.  His craftsmanship is excellent…and his ideas well executed.  But I’m not him.
  • Keith Newstead I am not. Here is another automatist that I greatly admire.  I love his ideas and the way that he executes them.  I love his whimsey. But I’m not him.

I could go on and on…bottom line though, is that I don’t create automata like anyone else (I don’t think).  I have my own ideas…and I create in my own way.  We automatists are all different…I love that about this ‘sport’.  We are all different.  There are no rules.  There is no ‘wrong’.

The image is of the back side of the Electric Chair wall, the one that contains the clock.  The clock needs to advance just 1 minute.  The minute is the difference between life and death.

The backside of the Electric Chair wall clock…before the back panel is glued into place.


27 November 2019: The Red Telephone

As I continue with Electric Chair #1 I have needed to identify the small details and the timeline.

One of the small details that is required is a red telephone.  If there is to be a ‘pardon’ the executioner needs to be able to be communicated with.

Spoiler Alert: In this particular case the Red Telephone is going to ring after the execution.  Too bad, so sad.

I’ve also got 1/2 of the shake mechanism created.  I think it’s going to work well.  And a side benefit is that the shake mechanism is going to be able to be used to ring the Red Telephone.

Initially I thought that I was going to need to purchase a small telephone…however by using my drill press as a wood lathe I was able to create a reasonable little phone.  Now I need to paint it red and then weather it.    And it needs a cord.                                     

Thanksgiving is tomorrow.  A fake holiday…but if you can get around it’s fakeness and focus instead on being thankful for what we do have I know that I have a lot to be thankful for…and I am.  I’m very grateful for the life that I am able to lead.                                                                                                                                                                     


The ‘not yet red’ telephone for the Electric Chair.


18 November 2019: In the name of the Lord

At the present time I am creating a piece called The Electric Chair.  It’s an interesting little automata that depicts an electrocution.,

Over the years I have occasionally had in my conscious mind thoughts of all the ways that we humans have hurt…tortured each other.  For about a year now I’ve been tossing around the thought of making an automata series that focused on things that we have done to each other (tortures) in the name of the Lord.  I’ve recently been on the internet reading and looking at pictures of tortures and I’ve decided that I will NOT do a series of torture themed automata.  We have done some incredibly nasty, mean, rotten, sick, perverse, narrow minded things to each other.

Our world is too precarious…we humans can be too mean.  Society does not need me creating automata that depict acts of torture.  Society needs me to create automata that leaves some sort of positive feeling in a human being.  I will continue to create The Electric Chair because it is an interesting little piece…and not really that violent…and least not in the same sense that torture is violent.  And it wouldn’t surprise me if I sell one or two of these little Electric Chair automata.  It’s an interesting little machine that causes one to pause.  But torture automata…nope…I’ll leave that one alone.  I’m going to focus on positive things.


7 November 2019, The Automata Magazine Forum, and progress, and frustration.

At the beginning of September Automata Magazine opened an online forum…a forum where automata is discussed and where automata thoughts are shared.  I’ve been active in the forum and am reaping rewards for my participation.  The participants are pleasant and many are knowledgeable.  I’ve learned about things that I had no clue about.  I would encourage those of you interested in automata to join this forum.  There is no charge.  Here is the link.

I continue to make progress on both The Electric Chair and Inclined Slide #1.

  • The Electric Chair: I’ve identified all of the motions that I will include and have create the base.  Now to fill it up with motion causing mechanics…let the fun begin!
  • Inclined Slide #1:  The motor that I’ve been waiting for has arrived and I’ve completed the test stand for the biped.  You can see a video of the biped test stand here (YouTube). I’ve got some of the assemblies completed…must keep pushing forward.

I continue to be frustrated with our federal government…and I am disappointed in the President that was elected in 2016.  If he wins in 2020 I may just jump off a bridge.

Electric Chair progress continues.


2 November 2019, An automated nativity scene in the Czech Republic

The November-December 2019 issue of Automata Magazine was just ePublished.  I so look forward to these issues…and this issue was certainly worth the wait.

One article has really captured my attention.  It is about an automata that took 40 years to build.  It was privately funded…not a commission. There is no paint.  There are thousands of carved parts.  The entire display is 23 feet long, and includes 373 individual figures.  51 community crafts are depicted.  It took three men 40 years to complete (1885-1926).  It survived WWII.  And it was just recently restored.

There is an excellent video, 20 minutes long, that describes this beautiful machine.  Time is spent viewing the restoration process.  If you are at all interested in automata this video is absolutely worth watching.  I’ve watched it three times in one day (so far!).  Here is the YouTube link to the video.

Probost’s Mechanical Christmas Crib


27 October 2019, The Electric Chair

Sometimes I drive a project, and sometimes a project drives me.  The Electric Chair is driving me right now.

I am enjoying the process of being creative…of having the right materials at hand so that I can move forward relatively quickly…and I am enjoying discussing this Electric Chair automata with others.  The reaction that I get from people is interesting.  Some ask me if Trump being our President is driving this effort.  I’ll admit that I’m not being driven by Trump consciously…but unconsciously…who knows.  I am extremely dissatisfied and frustrated with US Politics right now.  Extremely.  I wish folks could be honorable and keep their eyes on the important balls.

I’m in a good position right now with supplies being in stock in my studio.  I’ve got things working pretty smoothly in terms of reordering things…of having things that I need to have.  And I am working more efficiently in terms of time…not sure why.  My hands simply seem to be working better.  My hands seem to be creating better.

I ordered a couple of motors from China about three weeks ago.  They finally arrived this afternoon.  I’ll be able to place one of them into the Inclined Slide #1 test stand so that I can get this test stand working properly.

The Electric Chair is Taking Shape


18 October 2019, Automata in Public

In 2016 I created a 20 Pipe Street Organ and I have been playing it in public 2-4 times a month.  I’ve started taking Big Wheel Lift #1 with me to the venues where I feel I can control access (young folks) and to where I can actually transport.  It takes two trips to the car.  At some of the venues where I play the organ I simply cannot do two trips (that would mean leaving something ‘unguarded’).

Anyway, using the battery pack (that I mentioned 12 August) I turn on Big Wheel Lift #1 and start playing the street organ and people cheer up.  When they stop to visit the organ they almost always notice Big Wheel Lift #1, with many becoming fascinated.  And often the reverse happens…people notice the automata first.  The meter now reads 31,644 marbles cycled.  Big Wheel Lift is proving remarkably reliable…rarely dropping a marble or missing a beat.  If memory serves in the last 4,500 or so marbles…none have been tossed out.  Not bad.

Regarding “automata”, when people stop to chat and I speak the word “automata” many have never heard of the word…so discussion happens…which is good.  It’s good bringing automata out in public.

It is not unusual for someone from Europe to stop and chat.  They always remind me that Europe has much deeper automata roots than the US.

I’m very fortunate to be able to play my street organ in public and to demonstrate my automata in public.

Big Wheel Lift #1 displays alongside Misty, the 20 Pipe Street Organ. At the Bernardo Winery Farmers Market.

5 October 2019, The Automata Community

In late 2018 I discovered that Automata Magazine was going to be published.  I browsed the first two issues and then subscribed…and I am really glad that I did.

The world of automata is now much larger and much closer to me.  The articles in the magazine are at the very least interesting.  Many of them are excellent.

And then at the beginning of September 2019 the Automata Magazine Online Forum began.  Though still very young my life has already been enriched more than I was expecting.  It’s nice being able to participate and communicate with the similar minded individuals in the forum.

Inclined Slide #1 is progressing.  I’ve completed the upper drive frame and the marble lift and the ellipse that all will be sitting on. Next to be created will be the drive drum and the related ratchets and springs.

I’m enjoying creating the Jim’s Gym series…but am also starting to want to get out of that box and to do something different.  At this moment my top candidate is “The Electric Chair”.  Sort of a morbid but fascinating concept.  We’ll see.

The marble lift mechanism is being created.